Are workplaces becoming a modern form of ‘slavery’?


Linda Okero

Even with calls for ‘work-life balance’, work-related stress continues to make millions of people sick across the globe, with many barely hanging on. In 2019, the International Labour Organization stated that stress, excessively long working hours and disease, contribute to the deaths of nearly 2.8 million workers every year. With an increasing number of people expected to work long hours, are workplaces slowly becoming a modern form of ‘slavery’?

As people are faced with fears related to economic recession and employment insecurity, working longer hours to safeguard employment can look normal, but it can be a form of exploitation of people for personal or commercial gain – with serious consequences for people’s well-being. With 6 in 10 workers in major global economies experiencing increased workplace stress, we see and hear the impact of being trapped in such environments every day. Depression, suicide, and anxiety are among stress-related mental health problems costing the global economy $1 trillion in lost productivity.

Advancement in technology has also contributed to this dilemma, with the World Health Organisation (WHO) revealing that stress is more widespread than ever before and is the health epidemic of the 21st century. This is particularly true with the onset of COVID-19 and the work-from-home culture, people are rarely getting a break – exacerbating an already dire situation.

Working long hours needs to be addressed rather than ignored. People need to prioritize well-being and employers must care for their workers as much as they care for the bottom line. Wellness committees, team building activities and retreats alone cannot bring change. Employers need to be intentional – promote grind culture that puts people’s well-being first, call out unacceptable habits that puts people’s psychological health at risk. Organizations should also embrace proper remuneration and appreciation for work done. Reward people for having a work-life balance to bring organizational change, instead of making well-being a productivity issue.

Someone once said, ‘’You cannot do a good job, if your job is all you do’’. We must stop feeling guilty of wanting to work within the confines of what is acceptable. Having a career should not mean we cannot have a life, just as productivity should not be how we measure our self-worth. If there is anything, we can do for ourselves, it is to do ‘’a better job of putting ourselves higher on our own to do list,’’ Michelle Obama.

(The Author, Linda Okero, is a communications and development enthusiast who has been enhancing socio-economic transformation in Micro-Finance, Government, Business Acceleration and Advocacy space. She is the Coordinator of the UNCTAD Youth Action Hub – Kenya, a YALI Alumni and Associate Fellow of the Royal Commonwealth Society.)

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Pulse Live Kenya.

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